Fifty Shades of Gray In Family Finances

shades of gray in family dynamics
Our 50 shades are not quite like the novel!

This might be one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. I keep going back and forth on whether to share, but I do think there will be some value to some readers out there in similar situations. People can choose their careers, their friends, whether or not to have children, but we can’t choose our families. You get the good with the bad. There really are 50 shades of gray with family finances.

Our Gray Family Area

I’ve written before about how my in-laws went through a foreclosure and were forced to move to a house and an area they really don’t like because it’s all they can afford. They retired broke and live on social security. Surprisingly, they have done OK for the past four years since losing their house. I wouldn’t say it’s all butterflies and roses, but a life of forced frugality is not necessarily a bad thing.

We suspected there would be more family drama at some point, and we’ve reached that point. It’s been like like the emergency broadcast system around here lately. Jim’s parents car broke down a couple of weeks ago. It’s almost 20 years old with over 275,000 miles, so no big surprise. Also not surprisingly, they had no money to pay for repairs, let alone think about a replacement.

You Can Waste Money On A Fixed Income

Now, they do live on a very fixed income, and it’s easy to feel sympathy when you look at their lives compared to where they were a decade ago. However, they still find ways to piddle away money. My in-laws have been keeping a $150/month storage unit since they moved. They also have satellite TV, and they go out to play Bingo! Granted none of these are huge expenses, but why, why, why?

My stance on helping people who don’t help themselves has always been black and white. Don’t do it. It’s really easy to sit up on my high horse and tell people not to give money to relatives who won’t spend it wisely, but it’s another thing when it’s your own parents. It’s certainly a little more gray. I probably can so no, but I’m just the daughter-in-law. What would I do if it were my parents?

Contrasts and Similarities

I can’t answer that question because it’s like asking how the world would look if the sky wasn’t blue. My parents are not golden by any stretch of the imagination. They don’t take care of their health like they should. They are closed minded about most issues, and they love whole life insurance! But, my parents would work as Walmart greeters before they ever let themselves get in a situation where they had nothing.

Jim and I often comment about how similar our parents are.

  • Both were sweethearts from an early age, got married fairly young, and had two children.
  • Both are very traditional as far as men and women roles in the family.
  • Both our Dads left for work very early and came home often after dark, while our Moms ran the house and took care of child rearing.
  • Both of our Moms worked off and on.
  • Both sets of parents had similar annual incomes during their child raising years.

The Difference Between Savers And Spenders

The big difference was that my parents were always savers while Jim’s were spenders. My Dad was an entrepreneur and was always hustling after his traditional 9-5 job. Jim’s Dad usually went out with his buddies after work. I don’t ever advocate not spending quality time with your family, and I think both Dads do regret missing out on so much family life, but it is what it is.

My parents never carried debt other than business and mortgage loans that were paid off over 20 years ago. They always spent way less than they earned and put extra money into traditional investments and into growing my Dad’s businesses. Their hustle ultimately won the prize with a seven figure payday when my Dad sold his final remaining business a few years ago.  Decades of hard work has given them a comfortable retirement and ability to splurge on American Girl dolls for the grandkids and new Cadillacs every few years.

My in-laws always traded up when they made more money. They moved to bigger houses several times, bought better cars, had more things. Their ultimate undoing was the last recession when their debt load and lack of work finally wiped them out. All the payments were just too much. Years of hard work has resulted in a storage pod and a 20 year old car that won’t run.

I don’t say this to brag on my family or throw stones at Jim’s. It’s just a excellent contrast of how two very similar families can be so alike in the beginning yet have amazingly different end games based on how they lived in the middle.

How Should You Help Parents Without Money?

How on earth do we justify helping our parents? How on earth do we not help them?

We’ve talked and talked, and I think we’ve come up with a plan. We did end up giving my in-laws money to repair their car, which was probably a mistake. One, because there were no conditions associated with the money. Two, the repair did not work. Now the mechanic wants another $800 to replace the radiator. The car isn’t worth that much!

Our New Plan

Do Nothing– We want to wait it out for a few weeks and see if they can come up with a plan to cut expenses or bring in some income. Jim’s Dad was offered a job a while back, but he turned it down. I think he feels the work beneath him, so we’ll see if he still feels that way now that they have no transportation.

Give a Gift– There is no way we are putting another $800 into a sinking ship. We also will not cosign a loan or buy them a car. What we have decided we can live with is giving them our car if it comes to that. We will replace it with a new to us used vehicle. While our car is certainly no prize, it should last a few more years until they can hopefully save up to buy something on their own. We view this as a gift to our family and not something we will ever see a return on.

Put Our Foot Down– We will give them the car on the condition that this is it. If they drive it into the ground and are in the same boat a few years down the road, we’re done.

Speak Our Opinion But Don’t Hope For Miracles– We need to have a really hard conversation with Jim’s parents about their dire need to start saving money. They need to accept responsibility for their situation and stop blaming the government, the economy, or failing health.

Whether they get rid of their storage unit, cut their TV, or start earning more money, it needs to be saved and not swallowed up by an increase in monthly spending. It is so hard to speak to parents as you would to a child, but we have to do it. I also don’t hold out a ton of hope that our advice or warning will matter. If losing your home of almost 30 years doesn’t do it, I’m not sure anything can.

Fifty Shades Of Gray

I like our plan, but the hard part will be sticking to our guns. It’s one thing to say no for a car repair, but what if one of our parents needs a root canal, a hearing aid, or a medicine Medicare doesn’t cover? It isn’t so black and white, is it?

If parents of young children can get anything out of our current situation, it has to be get out of debt and start saving now for retirement. Your new car or premium HBO channels are not going to mean very much 30 or 40 years down the road.

I’m sure my daughter will have stress and struggle in her life, but I sure as heck don’t want any of it to be over having to take care of her parents because we blew all our money.

Have you helped your family financially? Are some people never able to stop living paycheck to paycheck? 

Image: Wikipedia Commons





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Snipon is owned and run by a small team who love to find deals on a dime along with the best sweepstakes and giveaways out there. We’re always scrolling the internet for the latest offers to share them with our community. Sign up for our weekly newsletter so you don’t miss another freebie!
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